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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Ira Winderman

Heat have chips to put into play, but liar’s poker in a Lillard deal won’t necessarily come in Vegas

LAS VEGAS — The notion is more of mystique than reality, of Portland Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin tossing his top chip to the middle of the table at one of the poker rooms here, waiting for Miami Heat president Pat Riley to push his stack all in.

The reality amid the Damian Lillard trade speculation is that while all 30 teams are in Las Vegas for summer league on the UNLV campus, Riley currently is not and is not expected.

Instead, trade talks, even the type the Blazers are conceding are in place regarding Lillard, are more the stuff of spreadsheets and conference calls, with Heat general manager Andy Elisburg, the team’s salary-cap whiz, on the ground in Las Vegas, having checked his oversized abacus.

The math is relatively straightforward, Lillard is on the Blazers’ books for $45,640,084 this coming season. Under NBA salary-cap rules, the Blazers can take back salaries totaling from $41,076,075 to $50,204,092 (from 90% to 110% of his salary), with the Heat also needing to work within those margins. That math changes if other elements are thrown into the equation by the Blazers behind their franchise-icon point guard.

So while Cronin is working with a single, high-end chip, Riley holds a stack of various denominations, including:

— Kyle Lowry: The 37-year-old point guard is due $29.7 million for 2023-24, on the final year of his contract. That could leave him as a salary-cap linchpin to making Lillard math work.

From there, the Blazers potentially could move Lowry to a team seeking veteran leadership. While that might sound unlikely, consider that Chis Paul, 38, already has been dealt twice this offseason, now on the Golden State Warriors’ payroll at $30.8 million for the coming season.

— Duncan Robinson: The 3-point specialist who somewhat restored his value with a solid postseason run, is due $18.2 million this coming season.

The caveat with Robinson is that he also is due $19.4 million in 2024-25 and at least a guaranteed $9.9 million in 2025-26 at the expiration of his contract.

As a point of reference, the Brooklyn Nets were able to move off the $19.9 million due this season to 3-point specialist Joe Harris, in a trade this week with the Detroit Pistons. The difference there is that Harris is in the final season of his contract.

— Tyler Herro: The 23-year-old Heat guard is about to begin a four-year, $130 million extension, due $27 million this coming season.

With Portland loaded with options at shooting guard, including Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe and 2023 No. 3 draft pick Scoot Henderson, Herro would represent a Blazers redundancy.

That is among the reasons the expectation is that any Heat-Blazers team would have to include at least one additional team.

— Caleb Martin: Martin is due $6.8 million this coming season, with the right to become a free agent next summer.

Any team that acquires the versatile wing in a trade also would acquire his Bird Rights, able to pay him next summer any amount up to the maximum. The rub is that Lillard has mentioned privately a desire to play alongside Martin with the Heat.

— Nikola Jovic, Jaime Jaquez Jr.: Amid a Blazers complete rebuild that would come with a Lillard trade, the Heat’s past two first-round picks would arrive locked into rookie-scale contracts.

Jovic, the No. 27 pick in 2022, is available to be dealt at any time. Jaquez, drafted at No. 18 last month, cannot be dealt until August, one month after signing his rookie contract.

— Draft picks: The Heat currently only have available their 2028 and 2030 first-rounds picks to put into a trade, due to an obligation of a 2025 or 2026 first-rounder to Oklahoma City Thunder (teams cannot be without first-round picks in successive future seasons).

If the Heat can get the Thunder to agree to move that obligation to 2020, then the Heat could put 2024, ’26 and ’28 first-round picks into a trade.

— Trade exceptions: The Heat have three trade exceptions available, one at $4.7 million from last season’s trade of Dewayne Dedmon to the San Antonio Spurs, one at $9.5 million from Thursday’s trade of Victor Oladipo to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and one of $7.3 million from Thursday’s sign-and-trade of Max Strus to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Those exceptions cannot be aggregated, but could be put into play to help facilitate a multi-team deal for Lillard.

— Off-limits: Beyond the obvious of the Heat not trading mainstays Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat cannot trade recent free-agent signees Josh Richardson, Thomas Bryant and Kevin Love until Dec. 15.

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